Identity growth, also known as identity construction or identity formation, is the process of figuring out what you believe, how you live, and how you feel about yourself. Our modern understanding of this idea comes mainly from the work of psychologists Erik Erikson and James Marcia. Erikson suggested that identity formation is the most important developmental job of adolescence, and Marcia identified the four identity statuses.
Erikson proposed the idea of identity versus role confusion, which says that people will question their identity eight times over the course of their lives and must solve their problems before going on to the next stage. Teenage identity development reaches its most important stage when young people actively explore their personality traits, gender differences, and racial identity. They find identity achievement by thinking about and accepting the values and goals that make up their unique identity. Now that they are starting to become adults, those who are still exploring their identities can move on to the next stage, which is Intimacy versus Isolation. In late youth, they can start making friends and building close relationships to help them continue figuring out who they are.
In Marcia’s Theory of Identity Status, the process of forming an identity is put into one of four groups, or ego identity statuses:
Identity Diffusion: This state is similar to Erikson’s role confusion because there is no clear way for teens to figure out who they are.
Identity foreclosure is when a young adult picks an identity without looking at other identities.
Identity Moratorium: This is a position that college students and military recruits often use to put off achieving their identity and instead explore different peer relationships, social situations, and cultural factors in order to continue developing their personalities.
Identity Achievement: An adolescent has reached identity achieved position when the process of forming their identity is over. At this point, a person’s beliefs that they choose to accept and grow define who they are.
You can change and grow as an individual at any point in your lifetime. For many of us, figuring out who we are and what we think is an ongoing process that changes all the time. One’s political identity may change from childhood to middle age based on their socioeconomic status or the friends they choose, or a positive view of themselves may help them stay true to their racial identity over time.
Identity growth can be fun and satisfying, but it can also be painful or cause worry. It’s hard to question who we are and what we believe, especially if the solutions we give go against what other people, our culture, or our family think is right.
If you think about your identity a lot or for a long time, it can affect your mental health and get in the way of your daily life.
Identity formation Signs and symptoms
Identity development problems can show up in a lot of different ways, but here are some common ones:
- Anxiety or worry: You might think a lot about your worries about who you are and find it hard to concentrate on anything else.
- Sadness or depression: Having trouble with a part of your identity can make you feel down or helpless, especially if you don’t know what to do to fix your problems. When dealing with gender confusion, people may have problems with their self-esteem.
- General stress: You might have trouble sleeping or feel physically sick with headaches, stomachaches, and tense muscles. These things may make health risks higher over time.
- Problems with other people: Not knowing who you are or what you think can make it hard to get along with others and cause arguments with family, friends, or loved ones. Additionally, you might feel like you don’t belong and be confused about how to make friends.
Having problems at school or work: If your fears are about your professional or academic identity, they could affect how well you do at school or work.
Problems with developing a personality
Again, the process of developing an identity is affected by many things. However, here are some places where people often have trouble with their identity exploration:
There is a thing called “social identity,” and it is formed by the groups to which you belong. Most of the time, these groups are defined by the physical, mental, social, or other traits that their members share. According to social identity theory, your self-esteem will be higher if you feel like you belong to a group.
You may face problems because you don’t know where you belong or because you think your friendships aren’t stable. Some people worry that the people they hang out with might not accept them for who they are.
- Professional identity: Trying to match your duties and morals with your job duties, career advancement, and morals may make you question whether the career path you’ve chosen is the right one for you or make you feel like your identity at work is different from your identity at home. It’s also normal to have trouble balancing professional identity with creative identity, especially for people who think of themselves as creative or artistic.
- Identity as a family: Family organization, generational hierarchy, and character can all affect who you are as a family. Sometimes it can be hard to figure out where you fit in with your family’s identity when you feel like your values and wants don’t match up with theirs and you don’t know how to make peace between them.
- It can be a religious, racial, or cultural identity. Ethnic identity is the foundation of cultural identity; it means being from the same ethnic group and sharing an ethnic history. Race identity development, religious views and practices, and family identity may all be part of ethnic identity development. When the norms and expectations of your background don’t seem to match up with your personal values, or when you’re juggling multiple identities that sometimes clash, it can make stress, social pressures, and discrimination against marginalized identities worse.
- Personality or sexuality: You may be having problems with your sexual preference or gender identity, or you may not be sure about these parts of who you are. Having to deal with gender roles and sexuality in a family or community setting can be hard. Discrimination against sexual and gender minority groups can also make things harder.
What to do if you are having trouble developing your character
If you are having problems like the ones listed here, you might want to look into some of these options:
Therapy: Talk to a therapist who can help you deal with problems that come up as you figure out who you are and use tried-and-true methods to ease any mental health issues. (Read more about how to choose a therapist below.)
- Neighborhood groups: You can probably find a group of people online or in person who are going through the same things you are, especially if your problems are connected to your cultural, racial, religious, gender, or sexual identity. These people can help you see your problems in a new light.
Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings about your challenges with your individual identity status may help you make sense of them and deal with them more easily.
- Meditation or other mindfulness practices: You can try meditation or other mindfulness practices in classes or on apps. Studies have shown that these things can help lower the worry and anxiety that can come up during an identity crisis.
How to find a good counselling psychologist to help you grow as a person
Find a professional who specializes in helping people who are having problems with their identity.
Here are some common approaches:
- CBT stands for cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Counseling based on existential
- Story-based therapy
- ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
- Practices for Mindfulness
- Psychotherapy with other people
- Know what questions you should ask possible doctors
When looking for a psychologist, these questions might come in handy:
What kind of treatment (maybe one of the ones above) do you use to help people deal with these problems?
Have you worked with people who have had the same symptoms as me before?
Put personal fit first.
Personality fit is a complicated thing, but it is very important for your therapy to go well. Several studies have shown how important this factor is. It is also sometimes called “therapeutic alliance.”
When you call the doctor for the first time, ask yourself:
- Could I see myself getting along with this therapist?
- Does the way they do things fit my personality?
- Do I think this doctor will listen to me and treat me with respect?
Besides that, think about these things:
- It’s possible for some therapists to spend most of the session hearing and thinking about your patterns and ways of coping.
- Some therapists are more directive and set weekly schedules and give clients work to do between meetings.
- Some people use certain methods or tools, like eye movements, tapping, guided images, art, music, exposure exercises, and so on.
- Some people use a mix of different methods.
- Think about price, area, and schedule.